The UNC Board of Governors met last week to finalize university operations for the fall. The reports of that meeting provide compelling evidence that the primary concern of the board is revenue generation rather than lives and safety.
The board made explicit that even if circumstances force a move to online education, as seems likely, no tuition or fee refunds will be made. The strategy is clear: get students here, along with their dollars. If the university returns to all online learning, students will pay for empty recreation centers, canceled sporting events and extravagant buildings that are not occupied. This is the cost of our debt-driven campus growth strategy of the past decade.
While expressing enthusiasm for the return of students to campus, university planning has not kept pace. After appropriate distancing, most classrooms will seat maybe 20% of the class roster. Hybrid classes, promoted as offering face-to-face instruction, will meet mostly online. Students will take classes from their rooms or apartments as they continue to pay full tuition and fees. This strategy offers all of the risk of high density living, with few of the benefits of the traditional residential campus experience.
As one member of the board, James Holmes, put it, “Students may choose to go take their classes at an apartment, but … there will still be people on and around campus” (NC Policy Watch, July 23). The disturbing but unavoidable implication is that despite the health risks that come with a large number of students returning to Boone, how you learn and your safety while doing so is less important than where you learn.
The University of North Carolina is following a playbook that, as reported recently in The Atlantic (“Colleges are Getting Ready to Blame Their Students,” July 21), is designed to hold students accountable for any spike in disease transmission even as universities profit from their presence on campus. The director of UNC’s Departments of Hospital Epidemiology, Dr. David Weber, said at the same meeting of the BOG that “If (students) don’t follow the guidelines and they go to towns or in dorms rooms and have parties and don’t physical distance and don’t wear masks, there will be transmission” (News & Observer, July 23).
Students and families have choices: they can choose to remain home and take courses online and save at least some fee money through housing and food services; they can defer admission for a year; they can take courses locally near their home and transfer these at a later date.
More importantly, North Carolina and the UNC system have choices: they can make emergency appropriations and budget reallocations to support education during this time. Rather than maintaining the current corporate model of learning, our state government can live up to the constitutional mandate to provide a high-quality education to its citizens that is, “as far as practicable ... free of expense” (NC Constitution, Art. IX, Sec. 9).
Our students deserve better.
By Clark Maddux, professor, Interdisciplinary Studies and Michael Hambourger, associate professor, Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences